CHISINAU (Reuters) - A grenade exploded at a crowded concert in the main square of the Moldovan capital of Chisinau late Wednesday, hurting at least 40 people, security officials said Thursday.
State security officials said the grenade had apparently been left in a box and exploded as the Russian pop group Bravo brought the concert to its climax.
Interior Minister Victor Catan, who confirmed the explosion was caused by a military grenade, told journalists that the explosion was the work either of “representatives of a terrorist group or criminal groups from abroad.”
A criminal investigation was opened on the basis of “terrorism with the aim of intimidating the population,” an interior ministry official said.
Ex-Soviet Moldova, Europe’s poorest country wedged between Ukraine and Romania with a population of 4.5 million, is in the grip of political instability since the powerful communists were defeated in a July election by a pro-Western coalition committed to European integration.
Though a government has been formed, a president still has to be elected by parliament. An October 23 date has been set for this election but a stalemate between the coalition and the opposition communists means this will not be straightforward.
Prime Minister Vlad Filat immediately called former communist president Vladimir Voronin.
“He discussed the situation with Voronin and asked him not to use this (the explosion) to destabilize the political situation in Moldova,” Filat’s spokesman said.
Witnesses said about 3,500 mainly young people were crowded onto Chisinau’s Great National Assembly square for the concert, part of an annual festival celebrating the city’s founding.
An emergency services doctor, Valery Andronik, said about 40 people were taken to hospital. Five were kept in for treatment for serious burns, though the explosion had not been fierce.
Mikhail Bogov, 19, said the grenade exploded 50 meters (yards) from the stage as the group Bravo played.
“Three splinters went into my legs. Doctors said this was caused by a grenade or a home-made bomb. I don’t remember how it happened. I came to when I was with the first aid doctors.”
“I heard a loud bang and felt a fierce pain in my legs. Friends picked me up in their arms,” said Mikhail Kerlig, aged 20.
City mayor Dorin Chirtoaca said the group was told to play on to avoid panic. “Many people did not know what had happened,” he said.
Later Thursday a man walked up to the general prosecutor’s office in the city and threatened to blow himself up together with the prosecutor, security officials said.
He appeared half an hour before the prosecutor was due to give a news conference about the blast, but later surrendered.
Officials said the man had been carrying a grenade and had a grievance over his son who had been convicted of murder. There was no link to the concert explosion.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Ralph Boulton